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Monday, 24 November 2008

Shared Moments

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The response to my call for more stories has been phenomenal and this week's batch of five is outstanding. Thank you all - and please keep them coming.]

By Jeanne Waite Follett

The world tips on its axis every Friday night when Anchorage empties out and everyone goes south to the Kenai Peninsula.

He said that, my dad, with a straight face and he held that deadpan look as he waited for my reaction. I glanced at my boyfriend Ken, newly introduced to my family, and saw a look that I correctly interpreted as “Uh, oh.” Oh, yeah, my dad was making a big impression on the man I’d brought home to meet the folks. Dad must have known this one was a keeper and was going to break him in right.

“Dad,” I said, “You know that can’t possibly be so.” I paused and watched his eyebrows shoot up, his eyes start to twinkle and betray him. “You know it’s offset by all the New Yorkers heading north on Friday night!”

Beside me, I felt Ken relax.

My dad and I shared many such moments, perhaps because I loved the way his quiet sense of humor lent him to speak sly witticisms and make preposterous statements and then attempt to back them up with quixotic theories, all delivered with a straight face. I find myself doing the same. Perhaps I caught it from him.

His sense of humor frequently stooped to the impossibly corny.

“What’s it doing outside?” I asked one winter’s morning as I stood in front of my parakeet’s cage drinking my first cup of coffee before rushing off to work.

“Nothing.”

“What? How can it be nothing?”

“It’s zero - nothing.” My groans tickled him and he went off to work with a self-satisfied smile on his face.

We shared another moment, this one not happy at all. Again I was in front of my parakeet’s cage in the corner of the knotty pine-paneled dining room. Old-fashioned paned windows looked out upon the frozen pond and snow-covered creek where I’d spent many hours as a child. My parents had built this log home by themselves, paycheck by paycheck. They spent hours traveling the roads and highways, gathering just the right rocks for the fireplace that dad built, as well as the flower planters that lined the exterior perimeter.

He dug our well by hand. After the house was built, he dug a 15 by 30 foot basement under the kitchen and dining room with a shovel, a wheelbarrow and a ramp, shoring up the cabin as he carried off the soil underneath it.

On this particular day I was once again living at home, attempting a period of financial recovery which was made all the more difficult by my inability to stay out of bookstores. The next day I would turn 22.

This day was November 22, 1963, and several hours earlier in Alaska than in the Central Standard Time zone where Dallas, Texas, is located. Dressed for work, cup of coffee in hand, I went to greet the parakeet when I noticed Dad standing in front of the radio. I wondered why he hadn’t left for work yet, as he was always on time.

Then the words from the radio began to penetrate my morning fog. “President Kennedy …...motorcade…..shots fired……..Parkland Hospital….”

The world stood still as Dad and I looked at each other, then he left for work without a word. I was late for work that day, glued to the radio until the official death announcement was made. I drove to work with tears running down my face as John Kennedy’s body was being transported to Air Force One, as Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the 44th president, as Jackie Kennedy witnessed the ceremony in a pink suit stained with her husband’s blood.

Such hope he had given us, the youngest man ever elected President. What glamour and elegance after the dreary Eisenhower/Nixon years and the Korean War.

My parents retired and moved to Eugene, Oregon, and I didn’t see Dad as often in the years that followed. When I did he was always ready with another preposterous statement to astound me. When Ken and I “eloped” to Seward and were married by the magistrate there, we told no one but a friend from Moose Pass with whom we wanted to share that day.

Later that summer we made a trip to Eugene. They threw us a party - relieved, I suspect, that their eldest daughter was finally going to settle down. Recently I came across a photograph of that scene, one that I had forgotten in the many intervening years. Ken and I are standing behind a table on which sit a cake and some gifts. At Ken’s side is my mother, a playful expression on her face as she mugs for the camera and hoists a beer.

At my side is Dad, eyebrows ratcheted to new heights, struggling to maintain a deadpan expression, shotgun in hand.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Well-told "Dad" stories always get me. This was one of the best. You reached from your own personal heart in to the national heart and back again.

You must have had a lot of fun growing up with a Dad that made life so interesting and full of seeing the humor most occassions. The shotgun photo was hilarious.

Your father was a charmer, wasn't he? Did your mom appreciate his humour too?

Loved your story. Your words painted a picture of your father and his sense of humor.

Loved your story. Your words painted a picture of your father and his sense of humor.

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